By Devin Barrett
As more travelers find themselves waiting – and waiting – in airports this summer, Sen. Charles Schumer said Tuesday that the head of the nation’s aviation agency should get the ax.
Federal Aviation Administration chief Marion Blakey came under fire from the senator over seemingly constant backups at New York City’s major airports, which cause cascading delays across the country.
“It falls clearly in the lap of the FAA and the FAA administrator,” said Schumer, D-N.Y.
The senator faulted Blakey for what he said was a destructive feud with the nation’s air traffic controllers. He said the controllers’ decades-long poor relationship with the government has gotten even worse under Blakey.
“She has engaged in a counterproductive fight with the air traffic controllers, cut the number of controllers that are needed, and they sometimes lash back,” said the senator.
An FAA spokeswoman did not immediately comment.
The problem is particularly acute at the three major airports in the New York City area. Between January and April, 38 percent of all flights at Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports were either late or canceled, leading to disruptions nationwide.
In some cases, the delays seem to come without any weather- or crowd-related reason. At LaGuardia Airport between January and February, total passenger traffic dropped 3 percent, but delays still soared, from 13 percent in 2006 to 35 percent.
Schumer argued that in the heavily regulated airline industry, it’s up to the government to step in and enforce changes to reduce delays, and Blakey has refused to do so.
“It’s getting to the point where it’s intolerable,” Schumer said.
Earlier this month, the leading U.S. airlines urged the FAA to impose delays on corporate and private jets in New York to help relieve the congestion surrounding the Fourth of July holiday – though advocates for the private fliers insist they are not contributing to the crowded commercial skies or getting any special treatment from the government.
FAA officials say they are taking a number of steps to reduce delays in the New York area, including redesigning flight routes and adding new software to help respond to bad weather.
The agency also wants Congress to pay for a multibillion-dollar upgrade of the nation’s air traffic control system, which still uses analog radar technology from the 1950’s. Proponents of the upgrade say new, global positioning satellites could more accurately coordinate traffic and allow aircraft to fly closer together.